Saturday, April 19, 2008

Vue de Monde

I've been putting off writing this post about Vue de Monde because like the Tummy Rumbles crew, I didn't know how I could possibly describe perfection. I wanted to make this post perfect, but I know that's not possibly so will just write what I felt. Note that there will be a lot of rambling on from me, but there's a lot to tell. Like Mellie and Danny from Tummy Rumbles and Jon from Melbourne Foodie, I thought my dining experience at Vue de Monde was perfect. All other places have a lot to live up to now.

So let me set up the scene. We were discussing which restaurants we wanted to eat at. Of course, I said one place I wanted to go was Vue de Monde. Knowing that it is notoriously hard to get a booking at, we all agreed to book early. So hence we made up our minds and used the excuse of Jo's birthday to go all out and eat at Vue de Monde. So after some last minute problems (Phoung went and forgot and bought tickets to IMAX for that day), we all managed to make it to Vue de Monde nice and early.

I asked the staff over the phone when booking if they had a bar which we could have pre-dinner drinks at. I was informed that we could have drinks at the bar in the Cafe. So hence we got to Vue de Monde a whole hour early, thinking we could work our way through a few cocktails. When we walked into this totally beautiful hallway, I informed the staff of our booking and about being able to have a drink at the bar. He was really warm and led us to the bistro. The "door bitch" (Sarah's words, not mine) at Rockpool could learn a thing or two about being nice to customers. Anyway, we got to the bistro to find the "bar" this tiny area, bascially the reception of the bistro. Not to worry, we sat ourselves down and the waiter suggested we have some champagne. That sounded good and we talked the hour away drinking some very nice champagne. When our booking time arrived, the waiter sent a call to the restaurant and the same guy who initially greeted us came and led us to our table in the main restaurant. Along the way, we commented on his French accent, only for him to inform us he was English. So we joked about how he was putting on a fake French accent.

Once we were seated, the waiter offered to take our jackets to the cloak room. It was still a bit chilly so Paul and I both declined. Another waiter, this time with a real French accent, took our wine order. He offered to put the wine into a decanter so that it could breathe. I said that would be fine, since I don't know much about wine. While we drank our wine, yet another waitress came round to offer bread. These cute little breads with flavours like olive, sourdough, wheat etc were offered. I got a sourdough and then an olive one. The bread was very nice and when combined with the exquisite French butter, was a good start to the night.

Yet another waiter came to take our food orders, of sorts. There were so many waiters that carried food to our tables, but I guess this one was the main one as he checked back on us whilst the others didn't. The whole thing ran so smoothly though and we were all amazed that they didn't get confuse and doubling up of things happened or they might miss things. But no, not a problem at all. Anyway, our waiter Anthony, with his cool tatts on his middle finger and side of the hand, explained how the menu worked at Vue de Monde. We decided on 6 courses, with my request for the Wagyu course that Jon suggested was fantastic. Also, we were curious what Vue de Monde meant so asked him. It turns out it was a mistake by Shannon Bennett (head chef) at the time of inception. Vue du Monde means "view of the world", Vue de Monde means nothing really. But all the plates and things were made already and he liked the name so decided to keep it. So there's a bit of trivia for all of you.

Onto the food. I can't even really remember what all the ingredients were in each dish, so I'll leave that to more knowledgeable people to describe. I'll just describe what I thought of each dish and the sensations I had eating it.

The meal started off with an Amuse Bouche, which is a palette cleanser. Our waiter Anthony presented us with a champagne glass filled with a pea soup he told us. Atop the glass was a "san choi bao" type thing with egg and mince. The aim was to try and gulp it all down in one mouthful he joked. Well Kin took that challenge literally and did just that. The rest of us ate the top part, utterly was smooth due to the egg and light due to the lettuce and then drank the liquid. The liquid was very light and cleansing.

The first dish of the night was a Risotto with a Truffle emulsion if I remember correctly. Someone correct me if you know what this is as I would like to know exactly what it contains too. Anyway, the risotto was one of the best I've ever tasted. It was so nice and creamy with the flavours of mushroom through it. It wasn't mushy and you could still bite each grain of rice. The emulsion actually had a strong flavour, which surprised me. When eaten with the risotto, it enhanced the risotto even more.

Next up was Foie Gras with French Toast. The foie gras mousse was very rich but tasted like a strong pate of sorts. Paul had never tried foie gras before but said he really liked it. The French toast was slightly sweet, like tinged with cinnamon. That balanced well with the saltiness of the jamon. I didn't really like the apple puree but the 8 spices was nice with the French toast.

The Kingfish With Broccoli Cannelloni was possibly the best of the night. I don't like fish but this one was delicious. We were told how they removed all the scales and then painstakingly replaced the scales with fake scales made of potatoe. Those scales tasted so good, like little fried chips. The potatoe mash was very rich and creamy and the broccoli cannelloni went nicely with the currant sauce.

It was at this stage that we had our next palette cleanser. This little shot glass all smoking with dried ice came out. It was a Tomato Consomme with gazpacho jelly. We were told not try avoiding the dry ice. When all my dried ice had disappeared, I drank the consomme, to be shocked by the beautiful tomatoe and basil flavours that were infused in this white liquid. The jelly were little bursts of flavour as well.

This next dish was the one that Jon recommended we try. It was a Tataki Wagyu Beef with Yuzu Noodle. The wagyu was so delicious. I loved it. I don't know about it being better than the one at Rockpool though Jon. It's hard to say since this was such a small piece, I would need to eat more of it to make a sound judgement :-). I didn't like the Yuzu noodle though. It was way too strong and harsh for me. It needed to be used more sparingly.

Our final savoury dish was a Lamb Medley. From left I think there was a Lamb Confit, Twice Cooked Lamb and a Roast Lamb. They were sitting on a satay sauce with some honey jelly and these extremly cute tiny capsicums. This dish was possibly the only slightly disappointing dish of the night. The lamb confit was ok, the twice cooked lamb not so great and the dish rescued by the roast lamb. The roast lamb was so soft, tender and flavoursome.

In between the courses, the only times the waiters double up on something was when two separate waiters offered to help us take photos within minutes of each other. This was great since the first photo didn't turn out so well. Firstly, here is my shot of the birthday girl Jo, while she wasn't posing so she looked so natural and great.

Then a group shot of us, dressed up slightly for the night. It wasn't quite "break out the interview" suit time, but we weren't in our usual t-shirts. I think we looked quite smart actually. We should dress up more often.

While I waited for dessert, being the chef groupie that I am, I asked a waitress if it was ok that I took photos of the kitchen. She went to ask and came back to say it was ok. So I was snapping away at the kitchen and that wonderful overhanging mirror. I was staring at that mirror a lot to see all the interesting things they were making. The presentation on each dish was amazing, like an artwork.

While I was taking my photos, the waitress came round and asked if I wanted a photo with the chefs. Of course I did. I showed her how to work the camera and then met one of the chefs. See how sheepish I looked since other diners were watching me.

Since small things amuse small minds, we were also fascinated with the ultra cool tooth pick holder. It was fun to just keep picking out more tooth picks, even though no one actually needed one.

Dessert, or should I say desserts arrived after consultation with Anthony. I wanted something chocolate whilst everyone else wanted something fruity. Anthony said to leave it to him and he would satisfy us all.

The first pre-dessert dessert was a Fruit Salad. It contained a liquid nitrogen frozen kiwi fruit coated in jelly, mixed berries and a custard. It was very refreshing indeed. The kiwi fruit tasted like it was frozen, but without that icy feeling that you get when you actually freeze it in the fridge.

Next pre-dessert dessert was these cartons of eggs that we had been eyeing off all night. The cartons opened up to reveal three types of "eggs". There was Prune Eggnog, Pistachio Custard and Chocolate Mousse. The eggnog and chocolate mousse were fantastic, full of flavour. The pistachio custard I didn't like too much. I find most pistachio things taste rather fake. I'm not sure what it is, but things like pistachio gelati and ice cream just don't taste right.

Dessert finally arrived in this beautiful tower structure, which Anthony proceeded to break. He was saying how he accidentally broke a wine glass the first time he served this dessert. But he was getting really good at it and he "whacked" (yes that is my technical term) each sugar tower just enough to let the cream ooze out of it without breaking the whole structure. I think this dessert is called a White Chocolate Coulant with Strawberry Kebabs. Whatever it is called, I loved it. The creaminess of the lava sauce, mixed with the strawberry kebabs and puree. Even the little bits of mint added more flavour. The sugar tower broke into tiny pieces that I ate with the biscuit base. A wonderful dessert that I could never make at home.

Finally, with our bellies filled to near explosion, the Petit Fours came out. They looked so tantalising that I just had to eat them. From left to right, there was a Tumeric Cloud, Nougat, Pavlova, Coconut Ice, Chocolate with Silver Flakes. The tumeric cloud had such a great name but tasted rather strange and bad. The nougat was too soft for me. I like crunchier nougat but Jo and Paul preferred this softer one. The pavlova with the passionfruit sauce was cute and tasty. The nitrogen frozen coconut was my favourite. It was cool and refreshing. The chocolate was also deliciously smooth.

To the atmosphere. I liked the really modern look of the room with the fancy lights hanging from the ceiling on very apparent red wires. The sideways glasses with fake fruit in them is cute too. The whole restaurant had a very modern feel to it, mostly dominated by clean white lines. The chairs were ultra stylish and very comfortable. The level of noise in the restaurant is just right. It doesn't get too loud that you can't hear each other while mainting a certain level of noise such that you aren't afraid to talk at all.

The service was exceptional. I could not fault them on anything. They do all the small things and the big things well. For example, Paul and I had kept our jackets since it was still quite cool. As we sat longer in the restaurant, we got hotter so took them off. Before Paul could even hang his jacket on his chair, a waitress offered to take it to the cloak room. When Phuong went to the toilet and her meal arrived, they covered so it wouldn't get could. They also held out her chair for her to sit back in.

Everything was just so smooth and you didn't notice it. Food arrived all at once and was explained cleary by whichever waiter was the last to bring it. They all seemed to have a very strong grasp of the menu. We were asked a couple times during the night how things went. These questions occurred at just the right times. The first time was about 3 courses in, to see that things were heading in the direction we wanted. The next time was after our savoury dishes, to see if we wanted more. Then after dessert to check that we didn't need anything else.

I could go on and on about the great service, but then you would get bored. Let's just say they did everything that was needed to be done, such as delivering the food and clearing plates etc, really well. At the same time as being professional, all the waiters managed to retain a personable feeling, especially our main waiter Anthony. We had many jokes with him and he was fantastic. So thanks Anthony for your great work if you somehow happen to read this.

We left the restaurant at about 12:30am, having had a wonderful dining experience. This wasn't just a dinner, it was a whole experience. Some people may say that the price is way too expensive, but you dno't get dining experiences too often. Hence I feel that it was well worth it. If I had more money, I would go to Vue de Monde even more. There are still so many more dishes to try. I kept looking at the tables next to me to see what they were eating.

Overall, we all had a fantastic night. The incredible food with all its substance and style, was well matched by the service and atmosphere. For once, not only has my high high expectations of a place been met, it was exceeded. Kin and I were having a discussion about what score to give this place. I obviously said I would give it 20, but he then asked the philosophical question of how I could know it was Victoria's best, as the rating system describes a score of 20. I said that Victoria could have a few best and that my imagination of what the best would be like, would very much be like Vue de Monde. I said back to him that I would never be able to try all restaurants in Victoria, so does that mean I could never give 20. If I can't give 20, then 19 would be the highest and that would be reserved for Victoria's best. Following that logic, I would go all the way down to a score of 1 and therefore I can't rate anything. You see how applying logic incorrectly can create false conclusions. Anyway, that's a topic for another discussion. So I'm believe that Vue de Monde deserves a score of 20 and is close to perfection.

Overall Rating: 20/20, All facets of the dining experience was amazing.

Scores: 1-9: Unacceptable, don't bother. 10-11: Just OK,some shortcomings. 12: Fair. 13: Getting there. 14: Recommended. 15: Good. 16: Really good. 17: Truly excellent. 18: An outstanding experience. 19-20: Approaching perfection, Victoria's best.

Vue De Monde on Urbanspoon

Dinner Part At Paul's New House

Paul has recently moved into his newly built house. He has just started to get things in order, such as furniture. He invited Kin, Jo, Queenie and I to his house for a dinner party. The house was still pretty bare and the lounge room consisted of one bean bag. It was still an improvement from previously when there was no bean bag. At least there was a kitchen table so we didn't have to eat standing around the kitchen bench.

While Paul was making dinner, we passed the time by building Lego (yep Lego, I hadn't built any lego for like over ten years) and trying to dance. I'm currently obssessed with So You Think You Can Dance. You can read all about my reviews of every episode over at my other blog. I can still only manage 1.5 spins. Arggghhh. I did two spins once on a very smooth floor.

Dinner was eaten over some very romantic candles hehe. With the recent blackouts that we'd been having, Paul had heaps of candles and decided to use them.

For dinner, we has Baked Chicken with Cheese. The chicken was good and moist still. I liked the onions that accompanied it too. But I thought there was way too much cheese. It was too cheesy for me.

The Lamb Chops were nice too. Marinated simply with rosemary, they were pan fried and just sprinkled with some salt.

The meats were eaten with a Pesto Pasta and some Salad. Simple ingredients done simply but all tasting very good.

The meal was accompanied by some wines that Kin had picked up from Brumfields and in Paul's case, the wine he got from the Yarra Valley when we last went. We were all shocked that he still hadn't drunk those bottles yet. The rest of us had drunk our bottles ages ago.

I also brought along a Coconut, Lemon and White Chocolate Cake that I had made.

An enjoyable night was had and thanks to Paul for inviting us. Next time we go to his house, I'm sure there will be couches to sit on and a big LCD TV to watch.

Creme Caramel

Like the Poor Man's Potatoes which I ate at Movida and despearately wanted to make, this Creme Caramel is also from Movida and I really wanted to make it. Luckily, the Movida cookbook that I bought also has this recipe.

This Creme Caramel isn't the easiest thing to make, not first time anyway. Like all things that involve boiling sugar, it is fraught with risk. The first time I made this, I burnt the caramel three times and two fingers. It was not exactly the most enjoyable experience and I wanted to chuck it all in and give up when I had three burnt pots in the sink and the whole kitchen smelt of burnt sugar. Luckily, I persevered and the results were amazing. My creme caramel tasted very much like the one I had at Movida. It is very rich and creamy and just goes down your mouth so easily. The difference is that I must have cooked the milk a bit too long because the texture was a bit rough. The second time I made it, I also followed the recipe and it turned out the same. Hence, next time, I'm going to try not boiling the milk as long and seeing how that works out.

My tip for making the caramel is to watch it extremely closely. The original recipe said not to stir the sugar at all, but I found it would start to burn on the edges of the pan. Hence, you can stir it I found, but you should control the heat very closely. And don't wait for the caramel to go golden. Once all the sugar has melted, you can pretty much take it off the heat and it will get darker in colour.

Creme Caramel (Flan De Nata)

500 g caster sugar
500 ml milk
500 ml whipping cream
2 whole eggs at room temperature
9 egg yolks at room temperature

1) Caramelize 300 g of the sugar in a heavy based saucepan over high heat for 5 minutes. Stir the sugar occasionally when the edges start to melt and darken in colour. Reduce the heat to medium and continue cooking for 1-2 minutes until all the sugar has melted. Stirred as required.

2) Quickly spoon 2 tablespoons of the caramel into the bottom of seven 200 ml ramekins. Place all the ramekins into a roasting tray.

3) Combine the milk and cream in a saucepan over medium heat. Just before the milk boils, take it from the heat and allow to cool for 10 minutes. Preheat oven to 170 C.

4) Combine the whole eggs, egg yolks and remaining 200 g of sugar in a bowl. Which until lightly combined.

5) Gradually pour 250 ml of the milk/cream mixture onto the egg and sugar while gently whisking. Add the remainder of the milk and cream mixture. Pour everything back into a heavy based saucepan over low to medium heat.

6) Stir the mixture for 10 - 12 minutes until the back of a wooden spoon is coated when dipped into the mixture. Ladle mixture into the ramekins.

7) Pour enough hot water into the roasting tin to fill up to 1 cm from the top of the ramekins. Place tray into oven.

8) Cook for 1 hour. Test if done by inserting knife into the centre of one custard right to the bottom. Pull knife to one side and if caramel rises, it is done. Set custards overnight in fridge.

9) To serve, run knife around the edge of the ramekins and carefully invert.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Banana Upside Down Cake

This Banana Upside Down cake is so easy to make, for a very spectacular and delicious result. This recipe literally took me like 30 minutes to assemble. I can see this recipe working with other combinations as well. Maybe banana and walnut, pineapple, apples, cherrys, whatever you wish to add.

The flavour of the cake is dominated by the toffee type syrup made using brown sugar. This gives the cake moistness as well as a strong flavour. When the toffee is baking, it actually seeps around the sides and dries up, give the edges a nice crunchy bonus. The cake itself is very soft and moist and has a fragrant flavour from the toffee.

Banana Upside Down Cake

Topping Ingredients
150 grams dark brown sugar
75 grams butter
bananas, cut into thick slices

Cake Ingredients
250 grams plain flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
225 grams caster sugar
125 grams melted butter, cooled
2 eggs, lightly beaten
80mls milk

Line the base of a 20cm cake pan with baking paper.

Cut the bananas into thick discs - the quantity required will depend on the size of your bananas and the size of your cake tin.

Make the topping:
Place the butter and dark brown sugar into a pan and cook until the butter is melted and the mixture amalgamates.

Spoon the hot mixture into the prepared pan and then top with an even layer banana slices.

Make the cake:
Sift the flour, baking powder and caster sugar into a bowl - lightly beat the eggs with the milk and pouring into the dry ingredients, along with the cooled, melted butter - stir well until combined.

Spoon the batter carefully out over the bananas, smoothing out the top to finish.

Rest the cake tin on a baking tray (this will help catch any escaping toffee) and place in a preheated 180°C to bake. After 20 minutes, check on the cake and if it appears to be browning too quickly, cover with aluminium foil and lower the temperature slightly. Otherwise, continue cooking for another 20 minutes or until cooked through.

Coconut, Lemon and White Chocolate Cake

I've made plenty of dark chocolate cakes, but had never made a white chocolate cake before. I have made a white chocolate blondie before but not a cake.

This coconut, lemon and white chocolate cake sounded really interesting. I like the idea of the coconut mixed with the white chocolate. I love Rafaello chocolates and imagined that would be what it would taste like. As it turns out, the coconut and white chocolate ganache tastes like a Rafaello and is absolutely delicious. I'm going to use that ganache for a lot of other things. The cake itself is nice too. It is a very dense cake, with the lemon flavour shining through more than the white chocolate. It tastes more like a lemon cake rather than a white chocolate cake, which wasn't what I expected from the large amount of white chocolate that goes into the cake.

White Chocolate Mud Cake

250 grams butter, diced
1 lemon, rind finely grated
180 grams white chocolate, finely chopped
330 grams caster sugar
180mls milk
225 grams plain flour
75 grams self-raising flour
2 eggs, lightly beaten

Coconut White Chocolate Ganache
140mls coconut cream
360 grams white chocolate, finely chopped

flaked coconut, for decoration

Preheat the oven to 170°C.
Line and grease a 22cm cake pan - a spring-form or loose-bottomed type pan is best.

Place the butter, lemon zest, white chocolate, sugar and milk into a medium saucepan that is over a low heat - stir until the chocolate has melted and the mixture is smooth. Set this aside to cool for about 15 minutes.

Sift the flours together and place into a bowl - stir in the cooled chocolate mixture followed by the lightly beaten eggs, mixing until combined and smooth.

Pour this into the prepared pan and back for about 1 hour 40 minutes or until cooked through. If the cake looks to be browning too quickly then cover with foil.

Let the cake cool in the pan.

Place the coconut cream into a small saucepan and bring to just below boiling point - remove from the heat and add the chocolate, stirring well to help dissolve the chocolate. You may find you'll need to put this back on the stove, use a low heat and remove as soon as the mixture is smooth.

Pour this out into a bowl and place in the fridge - keep stirring occasionally as it cools and remove as soon as it reaches a spreadable consistency.

Assemble Cake
Remove the cake from the pan and place on your serving dish.
Spread the ganache evenly over the cake before applying a generous coating of flaked coconut.

Poor Man's Potatoes

This recipe is dedicated to Cindy over at Where's The Beef?. I hope to see you make it Cindy! :-)

I recently bought my first ever cookbook, Frank Comorra's Movida book. I've only been baking less than a year. I'm starting to enjoy that more and more, but that's for another post. I'm more hesitant to "cook" as it's much more free form but I couldn't resist the Movida book because I love the restaurant's food and also it was 40% off. I really enjoyed the Poor Man's Potatoes both times I went to Movida and thought they were the best baked potatoes I've ever tasted. Hence I attempted them for the Bloggers Banquet 2.

I found the potatoes to be very delicious. It wasn't quite as good Movida, but it was sure close. The potatoes are so soft and are infused with the flavour of garlic, bay leaves, olive oil, capsicum and the parsley dressing (ajo y perejil). I have to be honest and say they aren't the easiest thing to make. From peeling the potatoes (I made a double batch) to finally taking them out of the oven, it was a good 2 hour process. So I won't be making these everyday, but I will make them occasionally.

Poor Man's Potatoes (Patatas A Lo Pobre)

60 ml extra virgin olive oil
1 brown onion, cut into large wedges
fine sea salt
3 bay leaves
1 red capsicum, seeds and membrane removed and cut into 1 cm slices
1 green capsicum, seeds and membrane removed and cut into 1 cm slices
1/2 garlic bulb, skin on but broken into cloves
1 kg waxy potatoes, such as nicola or kipfler, cut into 5-8 mm slices
750 ml olive oil (you may not need it all)
1 1/2 tablespoons ajo y perejil

1) Heat extra virgin olive oil over high heat. Add onion, bay leaves, sprinkle with sea salt and stir. Reduce heat to low-medium and cover and cook for 5 minutes.
2) When onion is soft, add capsicum and garlic. Cover and cook for 20 minutes or until soft. Stir occasionally.
3) Add potatoes and enough olive oil to cover the potatoes fully. Increase heat to high just below boiling point. When bubbles appear, reduce to low-medium heat and cook gently for an hour or until tender.*
4) Take vegetables out of oil and spread onto large baking tray. Season with sea salt and ajo y perejil. Cook in 220C oven for 30 minutes or until edges of potatoes are a little crispy.

Garlic and Parsley (Ajo Y Perejil)

2 large hanfuls flat leaf parsley, sprigged
4 garlic cloves
100 ml extra virgin olive oil

Blend all ingredients in a food processor into a medium puree.

*Note: The vegetables are suppose to confit for an hour. Confit is when the temperature of the oil remains below 100C. The oil can be reused to confit other vegetables and meats.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Bloggers Banquet 2

After the success of the first movie, Bloggers Banquet, we decided to make a sequel for all the fans out there.

The setting of the first movie was more rustic and had a nice country feel to it. This time, we wanted to bring a more seaside feel to it. After much scouting, we finally decided to use the holiday home of one of the main cast members. Ella from A Goddess In The Kitchen provided the perfect location for the film at Chez Fur de Mur in Dromana.

Ella and Furry from A Goddess In The Kitchen
Cindy and Michael from Where's The Beef
Agnes and Alaistair from Off The Spork
Vida from Vida
Claire from Melbourne Gastronome
Duncan from Syrup and Tang
Jon from Melbourne Foodie
Thanh (your intrepid reporter) from this blog
And last but not least, Marc and Lillian from Canada. Canada is not their blog, it's the country they're from in case you're wondering.

The synopsis of the film is that we have a bunch of food loving people who gather to have lunch. They stand around, sit occasionally while the whole time munching on food and talking to each other. They occasionally laugh and share stories and get to know one another better.

Photos From The Set
Vida doing her pre filming profiling to make sure the camera was capturing her best aspects. Michael in the background is talking to the diretor.

Duncan at the front doing his best "stare into the distance" method acting. Claire is doing her best to give a natural smile. Jon in the background is doing his De Niro "are you looking at me" stance. Furry and Cindy in the far far back are being "support crowd".

Cindy, Ella and Agnes are resting between filming their eating scenes.

Preparations take place to make sure all the props are in the correct places.

First scene is Tofu balls by Cindy with the most divine "Chinese inspired" tomatoe sauce I've tasted. I did the best take and gobbled down about 6 for the cameraman to film.

Upon moving the filming indoors, it was onto more action. There was Poor Man's Potatoes from the Movida cookbook by your intrepid reporter. It went down pretty well, if I say so myself. It was the first time I made them and I thought they were nearly as good as those from Movida.

The most anticipated dish by myself and Vida were the famous Duncan macarons. Duncan had fought off thugs in Frankston and made sure the macarons were delivered unharmed. They were the most divine things. The orange and rose macarons were great, but the violet macarons were in another league again. The flavour was so wonderful, untterly indescribeable except for mmmmmmmm, I want more.

Ella's fig tart with blue cheese worked. The contrast of sweet, savoury and a bit of tang with crisp pastry was delicious.

Jon's chocolate tart was pure indulgence, and so well decorated to boot.

Agnes' Caramelised Onion and Cheese tarts were a wonderful starter to the whole show.

Vida's Oblatna was more indulgence. As if we weren't already indulging enough, these caramel nut filled wafers upped the ante some more.

Again, Agnes provided a yummy combo of bagels with smoke salmon. A nice savoury respite from all that was sweet.

There were some unseen stars which I forgot to photograph. Claire made a "free form" cheesecake that was more indulgence with lashings of cream everywhere. Michael made a Chocolate Brownie with a Surprise. My question of "what's this white thing inside" got a response of "cream cheese" from Cindy and "where have you been all your life" from Vida. Finally, I also made a Coconut, Lemon and White Chocolate Cake.

You may have noticed an over abundance of sweet. This meant that we had to film all the sweet scenes before the savoury one. Luckily, Ella was prepared and knocked up this beautiful lamb. It was enjoyed by most after eating all the sweets.

A before scene.

And an after scene.

It was a fabulous day of filming. I got to know a lot more about my fellow Melbournian food bloggers. It was also great to have a different perspective about food from our overseas guests, Marc and Lillian. Plus when they spoke in French, that was just delicious.

Food wise, I would have to nominate the highlights as being the macarons obviously, but the Tofu Balls with the "Chinese inspired" tomatoe sauce was right up there. I will definitely have to make that soon.

Thanks to Ella and Furry for hosting the event. And to everyone else for making the day so much fun and tasty. Till the next filming. Any suggestions for a location and theme? May I suggest some co-ordinating in regards to food next time. :-)

5 stars out of 5

Your Intrepid Reporter

EDIT: A huge apology to Jon from Melbourne Foodie who I totally left off the cast list. This is because I used his links about the banquet to compile my list and obviously he didn't have a link for his own blog his own blog post. This has been a lesson, always double check my own work. But then again, I'm too lazy to do that so let me know if I make any errors on anything. :-)

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Rockpool Bar and Grill Melbourne

To satisy my current obsession with Wagyu, I decided I needed to go and try the daddy of all Wagyus at Rockpool Bar and Grill in the Crown Casino complex.

I went with a couple of friends, all three of us intent on trying out the Grade 9+ Wagyu. We could have got one or two Wagyus and shared them, allowing us to try other dishes, but nobody wanted to share only a portion of a Wagyu. It turned out we made the right decision to try one each. More on that later.

Upon walking through the barely noticeable main door near the lift, we were greeted with this wonderful smell of grilled steaks. We were all salivating already. We walked down the long corridor, passing photos of the Wagyu cows and also the cold room where the Wagyu was hung. I informed the hostess that I had a booking at 9:30pm. It was still only 9:15pm at the time so we were told our tables weren't ready. She suggested we go for a drink first. So I proceeded to walk towards the bar when she stopped me and said that it was very busy already and maybe we should go elsewhere. What the? I've been to much busier bars and people manage. Anyway, off we trodded for 15 minutes.

When we came back, at 9:30pm precisely (we were eager to start eating haha), again we were told our tables weren't ready. Anyway, this time we went to the bar and got drinks. The bar area looks very nice and we got some drinks and sat around. Browsing through the drinks menu was fun in itself, seeing all the wines they had available. I noticed that they marked up all their wines by at least 100%. Hence we skipped wines and had beers all night.

Finally, at 10pm, another hostess led us to our table and took our drinks as well. She placed back the drinks for each person correctly. They also put your bar tab onto your main bill, a nice touch I thought.

Our waiter, with his very cool French accent, gave us menus and served us the ice water we had chosen instead of sparkling water. I don't believe in paying for water, even at high class restaurants. Anyway, we proceeded to make up our minds for entrees and desserts, with mains already covered. A quick question to the waiter as to how best to have the steak confirmed that medium rare was the go. So three medium rare Wagyu grade 9+ sirloin steaks it was. At $110, they are extremely expensive, but we all wanted to try what they were like, having enjoyed grade 7 steaks at other restaurants.

After placing our orders, I couldn't resist but go by the kitchen and take a few photos. A couple of the younger assistants were happy to smile at the camera. They must be used to people taking photos of them all day. I asked them how it was working there, and both said it was good.

Our entree of Sydney Rock Oysters arrived and the waitress explained that there were two types, each with a slightly different flavour. I had one with lemon and one with Mignonette sauce. Both ways of eating them were delicious and the oysters did have slightly different flavours. One was more creamy and richer in flavour while the other tasted more of the sea. I forgot what the two types were so maybe someone can tell me?

I had told our waiter that we would share the Hand Cut Linguine with Spanner Crab and Spicy Prawn Oil. I was surprised when three plates came out. They had split the dish for us already. That's a good initiative. Usually we have to ask for extra plates despite telling waiters that we are sharing the entrees. The linguini was cooked perfectly and the crab added great flavour. I was expecting the whole dish to be spicy as it says it has spicy prawn oil. But instead, the dish was fresh and light with a lemony tang to it. It was the perfect start to whet our appetites for the steaks.

When the steaks arrived, they were served simply with just a wedge of lemon. A waiter came round to tell us about the Bernaise sauce and also offering various mustards. I opted for the seeded mustard. I tried a small bite of the steak by itself, then with Bernaise sauce, then with lemon. After the trials, it was clear the steaks needed nothing else and was best eaten by itself. The steak is the best steak I've ever eaten. It was so soft and the fat was delicious. The smoothness is just amazing. It was grilled to perfection, with pink meat still inside and a slightly charred crust. The flavour of the meat was evident in every mouthfull. We were glad we each chose the steak as having half a steak would just not be fulfilling enough. We all chewed each mouthful slowly and savoured the flavours that got released the more you chew it.

We had side dishes of Onion Rings and Sauteed Mushrooms. The onion rings were good, but the mushrooms were great. I'm not much of a fan of mushrooms, but these were sometimes firm, sometimes soft and full of flavour. It was the perfect accompanyment to the steak.

For desserts, I chose the Rum Baba. The Rum Baba I had at Philippe Mouchel's Brasserie was delicious already, but this one was even better. The cream chantilly helped to break up the rum a bit. I couldn't stop smelling the dish, the rum just smelt so good.

The Praline Mille Feuille was surprisingly delicious too. We all expected it to be those bad Mille Feuilles that you can get at bakeries. This one was not one of those. The pastry was flaky and crispy. The cream filling was a highlight. It wasn't some bad cream thing, it was hazelnut mixture that tasted fantastic.

The last dessert of Creme Brulee with prunes and armagnac was probably my favourite dessert. But if it is my favourite, it's just because the desserts were all so good. Like Amelie Poulain, I got the honours of cracking the creme brulee with great pleasure. Ever since that movie, I can't help but smile every time I crack creme brulee. This creme brulee was so smooth and beautiful. The prunes at the bottom was a nice flavour contrast and the Armagnac just made the whole thing so fragrant. I just love the smells of alcohol in food when done properly and not too excessively.

To the service. I've read many other people's blogs about Rockpool and some have had great service whilst others have had some of the worst service. On this occasion, I had fanstatic service. There wasn't much to fault, but here is my observations. I found the hostess at the front desk a bit aloof and totally devoid of warmth and humour. Maybe it's a tough job being out there, who knows. But my two interactions with her just left me cold. In constrast, the hostess who took us to our table was warm and bubbly. When she saw me taking photos at the kitchen, she mockingly posed in front of the camera.

Our main waiter, who I talked to a bit and found out that he was here on a one year working holiday and had worked at Vue de Monde a month earlier, was very professional but also personable. He joked that he was glad that we at least left the lemon wedges on our plates and joked about how full we looked after dessert. He refilled our water seemlessly whilst we talked and dishes arrived and were explained. He placed down our foods with explanations when required, such as how someone would be coming round with mustards for our steaks if we required and also the Bernaise sauce on the table. Things were cleared efficiently and everything ran so smoothly. Even when another waitress described the Rum Baba as the Creme Brulee, she picked up her own mistake and corrected it jokingly.

The only small fault was that no waiter asked to put my coat in the coat closest, despite my coat just hanging there on my chair. Also, on our bill, we had been charged for two Mille Feuille. However, when I pointed this out to the waiter, he quickly got it fixed and showed me the new bill, pointing out the fixed error. He was really good all night so we tipped him well.

To the ambience. We were sitting right in the corner of the room, which we all really liked. We had a great view to outside on the Yarra. We also got to absorb in the whole room, whilst having enough privacy to talk and laugh quite loudly. I wouldn't like to be seated near the walkways where the waiters and people going to the toilet walk past you all the time. That would be a bit annoying I would think. Otherwise, there was a buzz in the room without it being too loud. The sounds of the steaks cooking the whole night was great. The lighting was low but not so that you couldn't see. Each table had a small lamp as well as a spotlight onto the table from the ceiling.

So to sum up my whole experience in one word, fantastic. I had no problems with the service and loved the food. The ambience was smart but yet still casual and not stuffy at all. Of course the prices of the food is at the very very high end. I always see-saw between whether it was worth it to have a steak that cost $110. In the end, I think it is. I could never justify eating this steak regularly, but as something to be had occasionally, it is worth every penny to try such an amazing steak.

I will only deduct half a point for not being seated till 10pm since I know that the restaurant cannot control these things precisely. But part of that half point deduction was also for the hostess who turned us away from the bar the first time. Secondly, another half point deduction as no one (not the hostess or the four waiters who visited our table throughout the night) offered to put my coat away even though it was hanging messily on the booth chairs as its hard to get a jacket around those chairs. I know I could have asked, but I wanted to see what they would do.

Overall Rating: 19/20, Food, service and ambience were all fantastic.

Scores: 1-9: Unacceptable, don't bother. 10-11: Just OK,some shortcomings. 12: Fair. 13: Getting there. 14: Recommended. 15: Good. 16: Really good. 17: Truly excellent. 18: An outstanding experience. 19-20: Approaching perfection, Victoria's best.

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